An Open Letter to President Trump

Author’s Note:  This letter was written on April 30, 2017 in the wake of Donald Trump’s first one hundred days in office and mailed shortly thereafter.  I wrestled intensely with whether or not to publish it in a public setting, and have decided in favor of doing so.

April 30, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Trump,

Allow me, sir, to introduce myself. My name is Rance Garrison. I am thirty years old. I have a beautiful wife who I have been with the past seven years. We have no children yet, but we hope to within the next year or two. I live in the Appalachian coalfields of southwest Virginia. At this point in my life, I find myself seeking a master’s degree from Emmanuel Seminary in nearby Johnson City, Tennessee. Somewhat ironically, I also handle security for a regional rock concert promoter and work as a driver at a local pizza place while selling advertising for our local access television channel. I guess you might say I’m a bit of a hustler. I have dreams of being both an entrepreneur as well as a man of the Spirit deeply ingrained in the culture and community of my own little corner of rural America. I want to be clear that I do not represent any party, church, or institution private or public. I am only a single man, like yourself.

I sincerely hope that this letter finds you well. I wish to congratulate you on your first one hundred days in office as well as your victory in November’s election. I will be the first to admit that I did not support your candidacy. In fact, I was very outspoken about that opposition on social media, yet here it is now and here we are. I can’t say that I support some of the policies you have pursued or your divisive rhetoric, yet I find myself sensing that there is something very intensely human about you. You are a man who wears his flaws and even his sins openly and you seem to have little pretense about who you are, and for that, I must give you respect. As a sincere yet imperfect follower of the most authentic man to ever walk the earth, I respect people who are truly themselves.

I believe that man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has led me tonight to write this letter to you, and I write prayerfully that his spirit will move between you and me. You say you are likewise a follower of this same Lord, and I am trusting that affirmation of your own personal faith to be authentic in spite of my own unease and misgivings. I read recently that you were feeling quite lonely in your current position, and I imagine that the weight of the world would hang heavily on anyone’s shoulders who found themselves the President of this great country. I know it would be a weight on me, brother, and I cannot begin to imagine the day-to-day stress that you must be faced with. While I have never been your biggest fan, you are still a child of God, and when I put myself in your shoes, I always feel moved to pray that God will give you wisdom, strength, patience, and a strong sense of moral responsibility to the people of this country and to the world.

In that prayerful Spirit, I ask that you remember the poor, the elderly, and the downtrodden of this land, Donald, for it was they who elected you. The people of Appalachia are suffering. My hometown of Pennington Gap, Virginia lost its hospital in 2013. I do not know what the policy solution for Pennington Gap to have a re-opened hospital would be at the Federal level, but I do know that there are twenty-five thousand people living in a rural county with no hospital in Virginia, many of them elderly, many of them your supporters. In cases of medical emergency, these citizens of this great country, many of whom are older people with little financial means, are forced to be driven by ambulance as much as forty-five minutes away to the nearest medical facility. You are advancing in years, sir, and just as I have placed myself in your shoes, I ask that you place yourself in the shoes of the elderly and poor and sick who have little money and inadequate access to timely lifesaving health care in my own hometown of Pennington Gap and in the other economically impoverished areas of this wealthy nation.

Remember the sick. You have supported universal healthcare in the past, and I prayerfully ask that you support some form of universal healthcare in this country today. You could become a champion for people on both sides of this country’s political aisle-you could become a hero in the minds of many—if you truly took up the cause of the poor and downtrodden of this land. I know that you are a man of great means, and while I have always held something of a distrust for people of great means, many of this nation’s poor, sick, and old have seen something in you that has led them to be your most ardent supporters. You represent a turn from the usual political order, and people need hope now more than ever. What an amazing moment it would be if you truly did do away with a healthcare system that left many suffering, that cares more for money than for the lives of God’s children, and instead embraced the sort of socialized healthcare that the other developed nations of the Western world enjoy today.

I ask you to remember the immigrants of this country, President Trump. While I understand that our nation’s security is of the highest importance, we also have a moral responsibility as children of God to respect and protect the stranger in our midst. For some of these people, America is the only home they have ever known. For others, the United States represents a hope that echoes that which must have been felt by the Israelites as they wondered in the desert in search of the Promised Land. These immigrants, too, are your people, sir. Be their protector, not their persecutor, and history will remember your name with honor and respect forever.

Remember our military and veterans, and in the words of our Lord, remember his command to “love your enemies.” In all matters of national security, seek the common peace above all else. Our country has been at war, it seems, for nearly all of my thirty years. This is tragic, sir. While I know that there “will be war and rumors of war” forever, the scope of our military industrial complex controls far too much of our foreign policy. You campaigned against this, you must take up that cause again. The state of our world is too dire. Most importantly, I know that you have children and grandchildren, and like any father or grandfather, I know that you must want the best for your descendants. We cannot risk nuclear war, and I know that the weight of that must bear down upon you. I pray that God will bestow upon you the wisdom, patience, and guidance to avoid such a tragedy, and that in this current climate of global fear and tension, a great peace will emerge such that the world has never seen. History will remember you as a truly great man, Mr. Trump, if you show that you are a man of peace. As our Lord once said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Remember those who are struggling economically. So many people in my community are facing joblessness and poverty. While this area has traditionally been a producer of coal, the coal industry’s decline is irrevocable. Rural America supported you overwhelmingly. There are small towns throughout the Appalachian Mountains and across this great country that are full of people who have very little financial means or opportunity who absolutely adore you, Mr. President. Remember them, and do all that you can to expand opportunities for rural and Appalachian Americans. They are some of your biggest supporters, and you owe them a chance at the economic security and for a slice of the American Dream that all of us long for; however, this vision for an economically secure future must look toward the future, not the past, for inspiration. We must invest in technologies, education, and infrastructure to give all Americans, both rural and urban, a bright economic future and a shot at the sort of success that you have yourself enjoyed. If you work toward this end, history will remember you as a man of great vision.

Finally, I ask that you remember the whole spectrum of this country’s diversity, its viewpoints, its various internal cultures, its beautiful people, all of whom are Americans, and all of whom now look to you as their primary moral example. From our magnificent major cities to our beautiful small towns, you now represent America to the world and serve as a great moral influence on the souls of the people of this country. Seek to unify rather than divide, to heal rather than scorn. Be gentle with others, Donald, but above all, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of God, and so is every man, woman, and child on earth. Before Him, we are all equal, the mighty and the meek. You are loved, Donald, by many of the people of this country, but more importantly by the Creator Himself. If you walk before him and your fellow man with humility and a sense of equity toward all people, you will heal the divides in our country and restore our national civic pride.

The world needs examples of wise and courageous leadership. You can become that shining example. You can become the lion on the side of the marginalized. You can become that champion that the people of this country need. Your presidency is only one hundred days old; it is young and still yet full of possibility if you align yourself fully with the Gospel of Jesus Christ—a gospel which reaches to the places of despair in our midst and brings about life-giving hope in the darkest of moments. You can help show the world, along with the citizens of this great country, that America is a country where people of all races and all religions can live together in peace, where justice and equality reign, where Democracy and the common good are our highest national pursuits. You can steer this country toward a greatness the likes of which it has never seen, and you can do so by taking up the social and economic causes of those who are most marginalized in modern America.

History is calling, Donald, and the all-seeing eye of God bears witness to the ages. You are the President of the United States. You are a successful businessman. You are a celebrity. You may very well be the most famous man on earth. But even if you were none of those things, even if you were an ordinary Joe with less than a dollar to his name, you would still be God’s child, and like all of humanity, you would be loved beyond measure. Stand with the poor, Donald. Stand for peace and prosperity. Stand where Christ stood. Stand and be counted.

I cannot promise you my vote in November of 2020. That will depend on how the next few years unfold. But I can promise you my sincere prayers and best wishes. May God grant you His peace and wisdom in all matters of leadership, and may health and happiness be yours and your family’s. I sincerely pray that this letter reaches you, and if you, or a member of your staff, feel moved to respond to me, I would be quite receptive to that.

Sincerely, your brother in Christ,

Rance J. Garrison

Fort Henry Mall, Kingsport, Tennessee.

Fort Henry.jpg

Andy and I went to the Fort Henry Mall earlier today. It was the first time I had been there in probably at least six or seven years. In fact, I think the last time I went was on mine and Andy’s first double date with Kristina Garrison and Keaton Lawson back in 2009, so, it had been awhile.

I used to love going to the mall when I was a kid, and in high school, Mallrats became one of my favorite movies. Note, I never wanted to be one of the “cool kids” at the mall. I wanted to be one of those weird mall dwelling kids. Never buying anything, just hanging around. Possibly getting into some kind of most harmless mischief. Of course, we didn’t have a mall in Lee County, so getting to go to the mall was a pretty big deal for me and my friends back in the day, and the Fort Henry Mall was usually the destination of choice.

I also thought about all the times I had been there as a little kid with my mom and dad. That feels like another lifetime. I remember the old late 1980s aesthetic of the Fort Henry Mall included a lot of neon lights and dimly lit store fronts. They redid all of that for a more clean look in the mid 1990s, but stepping out of J.C. Penny’s into the mall proper used to feel like stepping into a neon wonderland of endless possibilities.

There was a pet store, two CD stores, two book stores, a KB Toys, and a store that sold grand pianos, basically every thing a kid with an interest in music needs. They also had a huge arcade called Tilt and a Spencer gifts that had a lot of lava lamps and stuff toward the back that my parents wouldn’t let me look at for some reason (reason being of course, as I now know, there are a lot of dildos in the back of a Spencer’s. No one covers my eyes now, though.) There were also a lot of clothing stores, but I was a kid. I didn’t care about that.

In high school, I do remember feeling disappointed that our mall didn’t have a Hot Topic. Johnson City got a Hot Topic. The mall in Nashville where my dad lived had a Hot Topic. They had Pink Floyd shirts at Hot Topic. And Radiohead. And Smashing Pumpkins. And Nirvana. Basically all the bands that a lanky awkward alternative kid would be into. The “real shit,” as the kids now days say, I think.

Anyway. The Fort Henry Mall holds a lot of memories for me. They’re currently remodeling the theater and they still have one of the CD stores (which now carries a large selection of Vinyl at outrageous prices), the grand piano store, a book store (though I don’t think it’s the same one that used to be there), and the arcade. I didn’t see a K.B. Toys anywhere. Just as well. I’m too old for toys and Andy and I don’t have kids yet.

We did get a couple of frosted sandwich cookies from the Great American Cookie Store, though. They were very good. It was a good day, and I shared it with the woman I love.

The Fort Henry Mall used to be a lot busier, though, than it is now, and parts of it are getting run down. Parts of me are also getting run down.

As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “So it goes.”

New Album Announcement: Gilead

Gilead Cover

I am currently in the process of recording three new musical projects, and I’ve decided to release “Gilead,” an acoustic album in memory of my father who passed away in 2015, first. The title is taken from the novel “Gilead” by Marilyn Robinson. We read the book, which is written as a letter from an aging father to his son, as part of my seminary studies. Since this album is basically my own final farewell and tribute to my own dad, it seemed fitting. The tile also evokes a bit of a nostalgic longing for a place that I’m not sure exists.

In addition to that book, I was also inspired by Bob Dylan’s early acoustic albums, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, and Leonard Cohen’s early work.

After messing around with a lot of electronic experimentation for my last two releases, this one is going to depart from that and be very, very bare bones. Acoustic guitar, harmonica, and my own naked voice. It’s shaping up to be very rough around the edges so far but that also seems fitting. It’s the first time I’ve done a collection of songs using just acoustic guitar and harmonica since 2007 and back then it was just because I didn’t have anything else to work with, honestly.

I have three songs out of a possible ten or eleven completed so far and it’s coming along quickly. The cover image is of my dad, just after he came home from the Army in the early 80’s, though it looks a lot older than that.

I will be donating any proceeds from Bandcamp downloads (and possible CD sales) to Saint Jude’s Hospital.

To view my past releases, you can visit rancegarrison.bandcamp.com or search for me on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, and other digital music retailers.

“It’s a Heart Problem, not a Gun Problem.” Is it, though?

Early this past Sunday morning, forty-nine people were murdered with an additional fifty-three people being injured at an Orlando, Florida night club in what is being described as the worst mass shooting in American history. This shooting is the latest in what seems to be a never-ending barrage of gun violence in the United States, and raises a plethora of questions and issues regarding sexuality, race, and religion in twenty-first century America.  The biggest question, for me, is how does our national consciousness correlate with our country’s gun laws and the rising tide of violence?

Inevitably, this shooting has sparked political debate around the topic of gun ownership, the Second Amendment, and whether or not guns are intrinsically to blame for the violence. Living in the Appalachian Mountains of rural southwest Virginia in the tiny city of Norton, stories such as the Orlando shooting and other mass murders often seem very distant from my own realm of experience as well as from that of my friends and neighbors.

Although in my personal politics, I am fairly liberal, the area I call home tends to be quite conservative. Many of my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances hold strong opinions about the Second Amendment. Now, if you are reading this and you are not from this area, your first inclination is going to be to judge these folks as gun-toting “rednecks,” “hillbillies,” or worse. I’m asking that you cast aside such judgments and understand, first and foremost, that the media representations you have been fed about Appalachian culture are mostly pure bullshit. Yes, we have our share of problems which have been well documented, and that is undeniable. But by and large, people here are peaceful, friendly, and willing to help out their neighbors in times of need, which is one of the reasons why so many people of my generation are opting to stay and try to build a better future for the region.

There is a meme going around that reads, “Cain killed Abel with a rock. It’s a heart problem, not a gun problem.” This one has been going around for awhile, and every time there is a mass shooting (one mass shooting is one far too often, but I digress), I inevitably see this meme floating around social media. I see my friends, my neighbors, good people mostly, sharing it and affirming its sentiment.

Heart not gun

I have to admit that I feel like this meme does have an ounce of truth in it. Now, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that I’m currently enrolled in seminary studies, I’m not at all convinced that Cain and Abel were literal people who existed, but it isn’t hard to look at the media landscape in the United States today and see a culture that is drenched in fear, paranoia, and the glorification of brutish violence. When a man like Donald Trump is considered a serious contender for the Presidency, something has gone terrible awry with the American psyche.

We have grown fearful of one another. We deal with constant anxiety. We struggle and we suffer, often in a lonely solitude in spite of the fact that the internet has us more connected to one another than ever before. There is a foreboding sense that men must be hyper-masculine or else risk not measuring up, and I know this because as a man who has never fit the “hyper-masculine” mold, I often feel somewhat as if I am falling behind. In spite of the legislative progress we have made in terms of gay rights, as evidenced by this shooting and the recent bathroom bill controversy, it seems that homophobia and transphobia are on the rise right along with racism and the fear of members of the Muslim faith, even though it isn’t hard to see that one mass shooter no more represents the whole of Islam than one Fred Phelps represents the whole of Christianity. Yes, America, we do definitely have a heart problem.

Yet, it’s also undeniable from a place of pure common sense that it would be nearly impossible to murder forty-nine people and injure fifty-three more with a rock. To suggest otherwise is an asinine statement. According to this USA Today Article the two weapons used by the shooter were an AR-15 style Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber rifle and a Glock 17 9 mm pistol. The weapons were legally purchased from a Florida store about a week before the tragic mass shooting. In 2016, there have been at least three mass shootings, and the United States is home to nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings annually. This article from CNN shows some of the relevant statistics. So yes, America, as much as we have a heart problem, we also definitely have a gun problem.

I’m not writing this to try to prescribe a solution.  I am not smart enough or arrogant enough to think that I have the answer to America’s ongoing struggle with violence.  I’m not a policy expert, nor am I a professional journalist.  But I am a concerned citizen.  I understand that, at least where I come from, guns are often just another aspect of life.  Many of my friends, neighbors, and family members are hunters and sportsmen.  I have enjoyed firing off a semi-automatic weapon or two in my own life with my friends.  Call me a redneck, but even though I’m not a hunter, it can be great fun and a great stress reliever to go out into the mountains and shoot at targets.

But let’s not forget that guns were designed with one purpose and one purpose only in mind:  to kill.  And too often in this country, the person pulling the trigger is not some hunter bringing home a deer for the winter or someone enjoying a round of target practice, but is instead a person full of hate and vitriol whose only goal is to take down as many of his fellow human beings as he can. Too often, the person on the receiving end of the bullet is not a target, but a living breathing human soul trying to peacefully live their life when hatred and gunfire tragically cut that life short.  This latest shooting saw that hatred unleashed on the LGBT community.  2012’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary saw the deaths of twenty-six people, many of whom were children.  Those are merely two examples of the most horrendous of American mass shootings in what seems to be a never-ending, everyday occurrence.

For the LGBTQ community of Orlando, for the victims of the shooting and their families, know that many of us here in these mountains stand in solidarity with you, and that you are in our thoughts and our prayers.  May we as a nation take whatever steps are necessary to put an end to the violence in our streets and the hatred in our hearts.  May we be unafraid to call out homophobia when we see it on display.  And may we be unafraid to speak out, using our voices to lift up those who have been marginalized and to speak truth to power whenever the opportunity presents itself.

 

A Couple of Passages that Have Struck Me Today from the Hindu Scriptures

Those closest to me (and many of those who aren’t so close to me, thanks to the wonderful advent of social media) know that I am deeply interested in philosophy, religion, theology, and the like.  For most of my life up to this point, that has meant exploring the Christian tradition I was raised in despite the fact that I have believed for years now that all religions contain divine truth.  Now, however, as I approach my twenty-ninth year, I have reached a point where I am no longer trying to hold on to my faith.  What I mean to say is that I have grappled with questions surrounding my own Christian identity throughout most of my twenties and have discovered that faith that must be constantly grasped and clung to isn’t really faith.

This is not to say that I have abandoned Christianity in any sense, but that I feel (notice I did not say “believe”) that whatever those of us who use such language mean when we speak of God or of the Divine cannot be contained within the confines of any one religion or book or, God-help-us, dogma.  Instead, for my part, I have decided that I will let the Spirit blow my intellectual and spiritual curiosity wherever it will.  I now float in my faith rather than grasp at it, to paraphrase the philosopher Alan Watts.

There is a book entitled “The Bible of the World” that has been sitting rather neglected on one of my bookshelves for quite sometime.  It is a considerably old book, at least from my perspective.   It was published in 1939 under the editorial guidance of Robert O. Ballou and contains English translations of many of the world’s major religious texts.  I am currently making my way, albeit more slowly than I’d like, through the section containing a selection of Hindu texts.  While my study of Christian theology and first-hand Christian experience has taught me that a religion is much more than its own revered books, reading through the Hindu scriptures has, over the past few days, filled me with incredible peace.

I’ve found the two following selections particularly beautiful.

“Even in bondage thou shalt live with the virtuous, the erudite, and the truthful; but not for a kingdom shalt thou stay with the wicked and malicious.  The vile are ever prone to detect the faults of others, though they be as small as mustard seeds, and persistently shut their eyes against their own, though they be as large as Vilva fruits.”  This was taken from the Garuda Purana. Obviously, I can’t help but notice the similarity to the words of Jesus in the Book of Matthew when he asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).  It makes me wonder to what extent Christ and the biblical writers were exposed to the predating Eastern philosophy of the Indian people.  It also begs the question of why is it that if these themes are so well-entrenched into all of the world’s religious traditions that we have such a hard time applying them in our daily lives?   I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt as I know that the capacity to judge others is definitely within me, even as I often give myself a pass on my own faults, much to my own detriment.
I was also especially struck by this passage in the Vishnu Purana:

It should therefore be the assiduous endeavor of wise men to attain unto God.  He dwelleth eternally in all beings and all things dwell in him; and thence the lord Vasudeva is the creator and preserver of the world.  He, though identical with all beings, is beyond and separate from material nature, from its products, from properties and from imperfections; he is beyond all investing substance; he is universal soul; all the interstices of the universe are filled up by him; he is one with all good qualities; and all created beings are endowed with but a small portion of his individuality.  Assuming various shapes, he bestows benefits on the whole world, which was his work.  Glory, might, dominion, wisdom, energy, power and other attributes are collected in him.  Supreme of the supreme, in whom no imperfections abide, lord over finite and infinite, god in individuals and universals, visible and invisible, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty.  The wisdom, perfect, pure, supreme, undefiled and one only by which he is conceived, contemplated and known:  That is wisdom.  All else is ignorance.”

A final note on this blog update.  I’m in no way claiming to be an expert on comparative religion or anything of the sort.  I am very much a student of these things and have much to learn.  If anyone who considers themselves a member of the Hindu tradition should read this, know that if I have incorrectly made any assumptions, misstatements, or have presented any un-truths about that faith that such things were done out of my own ignorance, not out of any sort of willful maliciousness.  I only wanted to share with my own small readership that which I had learned today.

The Bible of the World, published by Viking Press.

The Bible of the World, published by Viking Press.

Home

I was approached by Roxy Todd of West Virginia Public Radio about writing a personal essay for Valentine’s Day that focused on my love, complicated though it may be, for Appalachia.  Of course, I can’t separate my love for a place from my love for my wife and large extended family, which is what really makes southwest Virginia home.

The audio essay was included as a part of West Virginia Public Radio’s Inside Appalachia programming.  You can hear my essay, along with the rest of these beautiful love songs to Appalachia, by using the Soundcloud player embedded in this post.  The transcript of my essay follows.

Home.

For better or for worse, through sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Committing to a place and a community is a lot like committing to a marriage. It takes work. It takes willpower. It takes dedication. But above all, it takes love. As a relatively newly-and-happily married man , I can tell you first hand that love is the not-so-secret ingredient in any relationship. The struggles of day-to-day life, the bouts with sickness, the financial stress that most newlyweds face, it can all be conquered by love and love is ultimately what has kept my wife and I going strong for six years now as a couple and for eight months as a married couple.

I’m reluctant to compare living in Appalachia, or anywhere else for that matter, to something as sacred as marriage; however, when I really break it down and examine marriage as the beginning point of many families including my own; when I trace my own family line back through over a century of people who lived, and died, in these ruggedly beautiful mountains; a line that includes farmers and prison guards and automobile mechanics and coal miners and storekeepers and mothers and fathers and husbands and wives, I can see where you definitely draw the similarities.

As I approach my twenty-ninth year on this planet, family is becoming more important to me than ever before. Having all ready lost most of my grandparents, I know that I will not have the wisdom of older generations to draw on forever, and there will come a time in the near future when I will have children of my own to guide and to mold to the best of my ability. And there will come a time, hopefully several decades down the line, when my own life will draw to a close and it will be time for me to exit the stage, hopefully with grace and dignity, having left things in my community and in my world at least a little better than they were when I got here and having left something of value for the generations to come.

My family is here, and that is why when I think of Appalachia in general and southwestern Virginia in particular, I can only think of home. This place isn’t perfect. Its economic struggles have been well-documented and its spiritual ones have been as well. But show me a perfect city. Show me a perfect community. Show me a perfect family, or a perfect marriage, or a perfect person. And I will show you a carefully crafted facade. Perfection, at least in this realm, does not exist and never will. 

But Love does.   And home is wherever love is.  

And for better or worse, I’m home. Til death do us part.

Saturday Night. 8 PM

It is Saturday night, 8 PM.  I am sitting in my living room and the house is quite comfortably warm and cozy on this February evening.  The light from the kitchen is giving off a soft glow and there is a faint buzz of electricity about, along with the whimpering of our puppy, currently in time out in her kennel for trying to chase our two cats.  We have to set boundaries.

My father and step-mother came to visit us earlier.  My father and I spent a considerable amount of time talking about our mutual faith, our relatives, our lives.   He has decided to give up drinking beer altogether, and is trying to live a healthier lifestyle.  He is also wearing a nicotine patch and has curbed his smoking of cigarettes considerably.  At fifty-seven years old, these changes are not easy for him, but I am very proud of him for making them nevertheless.  Change is never easy.

My wife has been in an angry mood today.  I have been in angry mood over the past week.  But we have not been angry with each other and we seldom are.  I am thankful for our love.  It has sustained me through the darkest of times and over the past six years has been a source of strength and of joy for both of us.  Both of us have been spending considerable time reflecting on the injustices that so many of our human family are currently facing.  The killer of a transgendered black woman had whose bond was set at a thousand dollars.  A close friend got ripped off.  A former coworker was screwed over by a big bank.  All over the world, we see the evidence of a system and a way of life that for so many people is causing such suffering and such a sense of separation and anxiety.  I myself have felt this separation, this anxiety, this sense of something-being-off many times.  So have many other people. Lord have mercy.  Kyrie eleison.

And yet, though these feelings seem to be common to the human condition, what is also common to the condition of humanity in modern society is that we shouldn’t really talk about these things or dwell on them too deeply.  To admit our own insecurities about those things which trouble our spirits seems to be definitely frowned upon.  The West in general and America in particular wants success stories, feel-good stories, rags-to-riches, American Idol, destruction, delusion, and ignorance.  Even the things which gain considerable attention among the masses are not the Real Thing.

What do I mean by this?  Understand as you read this, if you read this, that this blog post is in no way meant to spark a discussion of policy nor is it meant to solve a problem.  I am writing this in a rather stream-of-conscious matter and I have no intention to go back and make corrections or try to build a coherent argument after the fact.  This is a blog, not a college thesis.  This is a journal-made-public, not a news article.  I am just some guy, not an authority on anything in particular.

But in my role as just-some-guy, an everyman in every sense, I suppose I have a sense of empathy for all the other just-some-guys or just-some-women or just-some persons in the world.  I have faced my own multitude of struggles:  spiritual, existential, financial, physical.  I am far from perfect, though innate perfection is not something I desire.  “Perfection.”  Oh, how we obsess over it, how we desire it.  How it is projected into our lives at every moment, an unattainable ideal in which all the bills are paid, the body is without blemish, the soul is without suffering, the spirit is without doubt, the bank account runneth over, the Caribbean awaits on vacation.  But how many of us live that reality?  Not many.

Most of us work for a living after all.  We have our doubts about how well we are doing our jobs; how well we are engaging in our various relationships, both personal and professional; how well we are making it financially, spiritually, mentally.  We look in the mirrors and we do not see the perfect bodies of a Hollywood royal.  Our houses are not McMansions.  Our energy is not boundless.  We have our human limitations.

Christ Buddha
And it is in these limitations that we most deeply encounter our humanity, and therefore where we most deeply approach something that could be called Divine.  Examine Christ on the cross, bloodied and suffering.  Examine Buddha beneath the tree having put himself through every suffering imaginable and coming across the other side with that famous enlightened grin.  In both we see humanity in terms of its limits, not its boundless possibilities.  In both we encounter a form of divinity that suffers with us and through us on the most basic and primal of levels.  We do not here encounter boundless power or boundless energy or even boundless understanding.  Instead we encounter a set of limitations that speak volumes as to the human capacity for compassion when faced with the suffering and wisdom of others.  For it is in that otherness that we can truly learn, truly expand, truly become more alive to our own possibilities.

Humanity, you are great.  You are strong.  You are good and noble and should be proud.  But yet you, and when I say you, I include myself as part of that you, you walk as if one enslaved with your head bowed down.  You throw yourself over to your fears and your anxieties and you feel as if you are less than those around you, that they are not struggling with the same anxiety of being human.  But this is a complete fallacy and a complete fraud, a completely delusional falsehood perpetrated by your own self-awareness concentrating too much upon its own egoistic fear. . . . and pride.

Humanity, you have a responsibility.  You have a deep responsibility to love and to show and to share that love to those around you to the best of your ability, for the ones you see as other, they are really you in disguise.  From a strictly materialistic and scientific view (which I don’t subscribe to but nevertheless) they are born out of the same process of beautiful evolution.  Their atoms were forged in the same stars, those stars were born out of the same cosmic Bang.  From a Judeo-Christian perspective, they are creations of the same Father.  From a more universally spiritual perspective, they are a part of the same creative energy.

And the key to take away from this, both for myself and for anyone who happens to read it, is that it is perfectly OKAY to acknowledge all three of these things simultaneously.  It is okay to recognize the other as yourself.  It is okay to feel compassion.  It is okay to let your heart run over with love.  It is okay to let music move you to tears or to let out a big belly laugh or to howl at the moon or to do whatever you damn well please as long as you are not hurting another, which is really just hurting yourself, by your actions.

It is okay to let other people know how beautiful you find them.  It is okay to let them bask in your love, and it is okay to bask in their love.    It is okay to be a human being with all of the myriad complications, imperfections, and straining and growing pains that being a completely human, human being entails.

And what’s more, it’s okay to feel angry when you see something that doesn’t sit right with your sense of how other people ought to be treated.  It’s okay to feel deep rage at injustice, wherever we find it.  It’s okay to feel as if injustice offends some moral principle to the universe, or to God, because injustice is just that.

Of course, popular thought would tell you that to talk about love, peace, and nonviolence is just so much “hippie-dippy-shit” and to speak of injustice too much or too loudly is revolutionary or radical or worse.  I have no grand point to make in my final paragraph because to go on any longer would be to ramble too self-indulgently except to say that it is been too long since i have updated this blog and I will be doing so far more often in the near future.  I am writing this, very thankful for my wife and my family and the friendships and faith that have carried me for my past twenty-eight years on this planet.  I hope that if you are reading this, you can find something in your life to be thankful for as well.

Light Up Ahead

This was recorded way back in 2006 in Stone Creek, Virginia at my friend Joe Fultz’s house two days before I went to live away from Lee County for the first time as I moved to Nashville for awhile. It was sort of a bittersweet moment because at the time, I honestly didn’t plan on ever coming back home.

Joe is playing the single snare drum that you hear, and he and Keaton sang backing vocals.

This song originally appeared on Lonesome Highway in 2004, but I actually like this version better. The fact that it was recorded with friends makes it one of my favorite musical memories to this day.

You can download this and other albums at rancegarrison.bandcamp.com.

“Saw you standing on the side of the road

With your hung up eyelids and your heavy load

You were saying “I’m leaving this world.”

I was thinking life’s too unkind to little girls

But the sky is a sea and the moon is a boat

And we ain’t sailing baby we are merely a float

You are just too young to understand

So come here darling, take my hand

There’s a light up ahead and I’m reaching for it

In the end we all end up dead

It’s what you do between to make it feel like it was worth it.

Are you still laughing? Do you ever smile?

I haven’t seen you in quite awhile

Are you still driving your fairy boat to hell

Or were the fires put out? Is it just as well

To go on living like nothing’s wrong,

To go on smiling all the day long?

Sometimes there ain’t no joy left at all

But you won’t ever believe what I just saw

There’s a light up ahead and I’m basking in it

Won’t you follow me to bed?

This exhaustion’s cutting deep, and I just can’t ignore it.

There’s a light up ahead

There’s a light up ahead

There’s a light up ahead

Won’t you follow me to it?”

Trying Something New This Month

Gonna try something new this month. Hopefully it will be successful and will become an ongoing thing.

One of the things I gained from my business degree was an appreciation of an emerging trend called “conscious capitalism” which seeks to integrate doing good deeds and community involvement into the daily practice of a business. I decided that if I were to run a business, I would want to incorporate some of the ethics behind conscious capitalism into my work.

I just realized that I already have a potential business under my watch, which is the music I’ve been making and attempting to market for sometime. Over on my Bandcamp page, there are five full length albums, one EP, and one single available for download. You can also download my cover of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” through iTunes. In an attempt to raise money to go toward my goal of releasing a vinyl version of my next project and to have something positive come out of my music which has usually come from a rather dark place in my heart, I have decided to donate twenty percent of all sales to charity, with the various causes rotating every month or so.

This month’s charity is going to be St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. For those unfamiliar, they are an excellent organization that has been providing excellent care for children with cancer for decades and they have a pristine reputation.

All albums on my Bandcamp site are available on a pay what you want basis, but remember, if you download and pay, I’ll be giving twenty percent of that to St. Jude’s and the rest will be going to cover my costs and help fund a vinyl project, which has been a long time dream of mine.

So, let’s give this a shot and see where it goes. Come download some music and help support a good cause.

http://rancegarrison.bandcamp.com/

Album Review– Keaton Lawson: Pink Sounds

I should preface this review by saying that I have known Keaton Lawson for over fifteen years.  I should also mention that I am practically related to the man as he is engaged to my cousin, has lived in my house on several occasions, and was the dude who handed me the ring I slipped on my wife’s finger at our wedding.  Did I mention we’ve also made a lot of music together?  Oh yeah, there’s that, too. Needless to say I’ve watched Keaton’s artistic and musical evolution for almost the entire time I’ve known him since it was a mutual love of music and art, especially ‘weird’ music and art that brought us together in the first place.

 

 

cover

 

When Keaton told me that his new album only had fourteen songs, I was a little bit taken aback.  This is the same dude who once made two albums with forty songs each, the aptly titled “Music #1” and “Music #2.”  The same guy who sat up late in my tiny first apartment creating the abstract work of audio art that was “Carpet Hazard.”  This is also the same guy who is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the best songwriters I’ve ever met but who continues to record abstract audio art by his own admission instead of a collection of “real” songs.  Songs like this, which when combined with the voice of my cousin Kristina Garrison are as hauntingly beautiful in their own way as anything you are likely to hear:

So, I was excited by the idea that Keaton had maybe just set down with an acoustic guitar and recorded fourteen songs.  Of course, as excited as the idea of such an album by my good friend makes me, that isn’t what this is.  Nope, not at all.  This is, in fact, more abstract Appalachian audio folk art from the master of abstract Appalachian audio folk art.  And it’s absolutely wonderful.

Here, Keaton has tightened up his approach and created a thirty minute expedition into the workings of his mind, and though the trip is short, it’s the most interesting thing he has done to date.  Created entirely on an iPhone, the album incorporates loops, samples, acoustic guitar, and spoken word pieces to create a bizarre and wonderful piece of art.  It’s hard to classify this as “good” music, because it isn’t necessarily aiming at being “music” at all in the popular sense.  And although Keaton Lawson is more than capable of creating an album of catchy, folksy pop songs,  he has instead created an album that is a masterpiece in its own right.  Right out of the gate, “Buddha Dance” throws the listener into what is going to be a weird and wild ride.  “Hide My Soul Away” incorporates synth noise and distorted acoustic guitar in a deconstruction of what could be a beautiful song if that were the goal.  “Jeopardy” opens with two lines of lyrics, followed by two minutes of sampled TBN hellfire preaching.  “The Rain Burns” is reminiscent of early Ween.

The best track of the bunch, and undoubtedly the best thing I have ever heard by Keaton Lawson in this vein of his work, is the nearly seven minute “Chester” near the end of the album.  This haunting spoken word piece has its titular character exploring the sort of philosophical issues that Keaton and myself usually talk about when we meet up.  It’s a horror story told through folk poetry that echoes the work of Southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews.

This track alone makes the entire album worth downloading.  It’s a work of southern Appalachian beat poetry that’s full of humor and dread.   And while I’m still waiting to hear that collection of “serious” songs rather than an experimental album by Keaton Lawson, this album is a great gateway into his work and is sure to be completely unlike anything you have ever heard or experienced.